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ISPs must offer quality services to enhance human rights: MISA

A media watchdog, the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) Zimbabwe, has urged Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to uphold internet services standards and minimise disruptions of internet services.  

As the world celebrates the International Human Rights Day, MISA-Zimbabwe said the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to access information using the internet are central to the enjoyment of other rights and essential to bridging the digital divide.

But the reliability of the internet in Zimbabwe at all times affects the ability to access critical services such as healthcare, education, banking, commerce and the broader business in the era of the Covid-19 global pandemic where most engagements are done online.

“Hence the need to enforce the regulations on the quality of internet services in Zimbabwe, which include making sure there is availability of services all the time. As Zimbabwe, as is the case with the rest of the international community, grapples with containing the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, network resilience and responsiveness becomes a strategic national issue,” MISA Zimbabwe said.

MISA-Zimbabwe noted that on December 9, 2020, consumers and internet users nationwide struggled to access internet services as one of the biggest internet services provider ZOL Zimbabwe’s system collapsed.

ZOL later issued a statement which read, “Kindly note that we are currently experiencing a network challenge that has resulted in some customers failing to access the internet and or their emails… Our engineers are working to rectify this as soon as possible…”

The media watchdog described this ‘network challenge’ as one of the most widely felt disruptions of internet service platforms since the 2019 national internet shutdown.

“Yesterday’s disruptions have far-reaching implications on the provision of downstream services. Since the outbreak of the pandemic which limited face-to-face meetings, the majority of organisations are performing their business online,” MISA-Zimbabwe said.
The media watchdog noted that in 2016, the Minister of Information Communication Technology, and Cyber Security issued the Postal and Telecommunications (Quality Services) Regulations, whose quality service regulations were to apply to the quality of voice calls, SMS, Internet and mobile data, customer services, and postal services.

“It is not enough for both ISPs and MNOs to blame system upgrades for prolonged interruptions of internet services. ISPs should uphold internet services standards to make sure that disruptions of internet services are minimised, and consumer rights are protected while engaging on the platforms available,” said the watchdog.  “Accordingly, the Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), second-quarter 2020 industry report noted, ‘The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the critical importance that telecommunications infrastructure plays in keeping businesses, governments, and societies connected and running.’”

POTRAZ’s second-quarter 2020 industry report also said the telecommunications sector has been critical in keeping the economy running under lockdown restrictions by providing business-critical connectivity and resilience, facilitating work-from-home arrangements, e-banking, e-commerce, as well as keeping individuals and societies connected and informed, with access to essential services during mandated social isolation.
MISA-Zimbabwe said as a result, many telecommunication players providing broadband have benefitted from a surge in the traffic of data as shown in this report.

“The need to make sure the enjoyment of internet services is at all material times is further provided for by the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa that says the right to freedom of expression and to access information using the internet are central to the enjoyment of other rights,” MISA-Zimbabwe said.

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